News, Expertise, Tips and More.
- Written by Jeff Binney
Last week, we talked about the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in terms of its magnitude (7162 entries) and seamless organization (thanks to Directors Bob and Scott Fraser and their entire team). Today, let’s take a look at how the competition functions.
My wine mentor Bill Stevens taught me long ago that drinking wine and tasting wine is fun, but judging wine is hard work. It is, and being at the SFCWC was like boot camp for some of the best wine judges in the country.
Breakfast was from 8:00 - 9 a.m. all four days, with daily announcements given by Bob at exactly 9 o’clock. At noon, lunch began and each panel would break for 30 minutes based on their progress judging. The food was great, and there was even a cooler full of cold Lagunitas Ales for the judges at lunch!
There are three judges per panel, and I was fortunate to be matched with Mike Dunne and Andy Perdue. Andy is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times and Mike is the former food editor, wine columnist, and restaurant critic for the Sacramento Bee. We judged well together, and after three days with these guys my head was swelling with new wine info.
7162 wines were broken down into over 100 categories, and the types of categories are based on varietals (Zinfandels, e.g. ) or styles (Bordeaux-style blends, e.g.). Large categories, like Zinfandels, are further divided by price, such as $28.00-$31.99.
Judging is simple. A wine scores no medal, or a bronze, silver, or gold. A wine can also score a bronze or silver plus or minus. If a wine scores a gold from all 3 judges, it becomes a double gold. Judges can change their scores based on panel discussion. At the end of each category, wines that won gold and double gold are revisited, and only one is chosen “Best in Class” for that flight.
Categories can be large, on Wednesday I judged 64 Cabernet Sauvignons priced from $39.00 to $42.99. They arrive in flights of 12, and are set in a near perfect 1/2 circle. When I arrived back from lunch the first day, I found my napkin folded, pencil sharpened, bread refreshed, and water replenished.
This brings me to a most appreciative mention of the incredible panel crew that Andy, Mike, and I were fortunate to have assist us. Our panel monitor was Ginny Barnett. She tallied our scores, posted medals, kept us organized and on track, and pretty much spoiled us rotten. Ellen, Sue, and Gary did the trench work behind the curtains, bringing us endless wine and keeping our tables tidy.
One last THANKS to everyone, here and there...
- Written by Jeff Binney
Hello, Hello, Hello!
WOW!!! I’m hardly ever short on words, but right now I’m struggling to find any that can convey what an awesomely incredible time Kathy and I had last week in Sonoma. I had the professional experience of a lifetime judging the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competiion, but I’m not sure I had as much fun as our Grape Creek wines.
Once again GCV wines overachieved, bringing back 12 medals. Our 2013 Cabernet Trois won Double Gold (meaning all 3 judges scored it Gold), and the ’13 Serendipity and Merlot reeled in Gold medals as well.
We garnered 7 Silver medals, including our ’13 Mosaic, Bellissimo, Petite Sirah, and Rendezvous, and the ’14 pinot Grigio, Cuvee Blanc, and Muscat Canelli . Two of my favorites, the ’13 Cabernet/Syrah and ’14 Riesling brought back Bronze.
Next week, I’ll talk about the mechanics of the competition, how the judging works, and how the wines are scored. Today, however, I want to write about the competition itself.
The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (SFCWC) is the largest, most prestigious American wine event in the country. This year there were 7162 entries from at least 28 states, crushing last year’s record of 6417. Entries were divided into 100+ categories, and I was one of over 60 judges from around the country assigned the daunting task of scoring them. In 3 days, my panel judged over 300 wines.
The best medal winners from this event (including our Cab Trois, Serendipity, and Merlot) will be featured at a public tasting in San Francisco on Saturday, February 13. Tickets and more info (along with a complete list of medal winners) can be found at www.winejudging.com.
The proceeds from the competition and public tasting support wine and food education at educational institutions across the country.
Here, I have to mention and extend the biggest THANK YOU possible to the Directors of the SFCWC, Bob and his son Scott Fraser. They are organizational geniuses. If there was a glitch, there was no microscope powerful enough to find it! Their hospitality and gracious warmth, not to mention the confidence they placed in me, is beyond words.
During the Sweepstakes Round, which takes place on the fourth and final day of the event, we choose the best of the best. There are 79 wines in front of me, and I have about an hour and a half to select the best white, red, rose, sweet, and sparkling wine. Holy Guacamole!
- Written by Jeff Binney
Here’s to wishing everyone a very healthy, happy, and prosperous 2016. We’re all familiar New Years traditions such as broken resolutions, black-eyed peas, Champagne, and fireworks. Today, however, I realized I knew very little, if anything, about the origins of the holiday. So, here we go...
Celebrating the new year is one of the oldest continually celebrated holidays in our history, and dates back 4000 years ago to ancient Babylon. To the Babylonians, the new year began on the first new moon after the vernal equinox, about March 20, when day and night are equal length.
The Babylonians celebrated with an 11 day religious festival called Akitu, a Sumerian word for barley. During this celebration they also crowned a new king, or reaffirmed the old one.
Throughout ancient times, the new year was tied to the seasons and astronomy. The Chinese New Year began on the second new moon after the winter solstice, while in Egypt it was inked with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
As different calendars evolved with civilization, they fell out of sync with the rhythm of the seasons and the stars. In 46 BC, Julius Caeser called on Rome’s greatest scientists to create the Julian calendar, which is very similar to the Gregorian calendar we use today.
Julius Caeser also proclaimed January 1 as the first day of the year. January is from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings. Janus had two faces, one that looked to the past, and one that looked toward the future.
With the rise of Christianity in the Middle Ages, Christian leaders took a dim view of celebrating the new year on January 1; viewing it as a holiday rife with paganism. Efforts to make it a religious holiday (December 25 or March 25) failed when, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII officially established it as January 1.
I know, Jeff’s Corner is supposed to be about wine, so let’s make this legit. If you have a bottle of our GCV 2013 Euphoria on hand, it may just well be the perfect bubbly for New Year’s Eve. My last bottle is going in the fridge as soon as I send this off.
ALSO, Kathy and I are off to California next week, where I’ll judge the extremely prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. www.winejudging.com is the competitions’ website. You can check out my judges page by clicking on the group photo of judges and then scrolling down a bit. I’m lucky #7 in the media section.
Next week, I’ll have some news and photos from Sonoma, and once again...
HAPPY NEW YEAR!